Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Trip Down Under

Australia is known for really great red wines – in particular, Shiraz – but yesterday, in Toronto, I found a great white wine, a couple of surprising non Shiraz red wines and a great dessert wine that I just had to share with all of you who read my blog.

Matt – one part of Plunkett Fowles – came all the way from Australia with a variety of their products to show us what the Strathbogie Ranges has to offer. The Strathbogie Ranges area of Australia is about one hundred and thirty kilometers north of Melbourne and is considered to be one of the “kindest” cool climate regions in South East Australia. Just an interesting fact about the Strathbogie Ranges to consider:

“In the coolness of spring the vines produce only small berries. The months that follow consistently offer low rainfall, cloudless skies and intense summer sun, giving rise to fruit that is dense in colour and flavour. Being inland, the Strathbogie are rarely plagued by autumn humidity so there is less pressure to harvest to beat the spread of plant diseases, helping to ensure we harvest under optimum conditions.”

From the sounds of it, the Strathbogie Ranges are a winemakers dream and, based on their wines, they definitely have a lot to offer. All of the wines from Plunkett Fowles were lovely but the one white wine that truly impressed me was their 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay. This particular wine is produced under their Ladies who Shoot their Lunch line and the way they describe this wine is unlike how most wineries describe their wines. Rather than describing the flavours and aromas, they choose to describe their wine in the way you would feel like a lady who has just spent the morning shooting her lunch. What strikes me the most about this wine are the complex flavours in the palate. Instead of using cultured yeast, as most wineries do, they have chosen to use the wild yeasts found in the vineyard to ferment this wine. It can be a tricky process but once a winemaker has mastered how to do this effectively, wild fermented wines can produce some amazing results. When tasting this wine, it struck me how similar the 2008 Wild Ferment Chardonnay was to a Barrel Fermented Chardonnay that was made in a barrel that was 2-3 years into use. As barrels are used year after year, the flavours they impart to a wine lessen and with this particular Wild Ferment Chardonnay there was just a kiss of oak which would equate to a 2-3 year old barrel. The palate was loud and powerful with flavours of citrus and mineral and a long, lingering, lemony finish.

Just as Plunkett Fowles has a very interesting Wild Ferment Chardonnay from their Ladies who Shoot their Lunch line, they also have a 2006 Stone Dwellers Shiraz which was quite enjoyable. Looking at the technical information on this wine you find that it is actually a blend of 98.5% Shiraz with 1.5% Viognier which is something that Australian wines have taken to doing regularly because it brings a nice floral aspect to a normally rich and silky palate. This wine is definitely everything I love about Australian Shiraz – jammy, fruity and a good spicy backbone that lingers on almost indefinitely.

Our next two wines – both reds – find us at Downing Estate Winery in Heathcote, Victoria. They exclusively produce red wines and, at this tasting, they brought along their Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2004 vintage. The Shiraz is chock full of berry flavour, vanilla, chocolate and plums. It is jammy and rich and spicy and everything a really great Shiraz should be. The Cabernet Sauvignon, although great now, will definitely benefit from additional aging – like, say, 8-12 years. It is already showing black currant, vanilla and bread aromas with excellent structure, tannins, more black currant as well as a few herbal hints. Just imagine how great this wine will be in a few years time.

We continue with more reds – this time from a winery called Black Jack Wines. As their website clearly states, “Blackjack is Red!!!” and all they do is red wines…and extremely well at that. The 2004 Cabernet Merlot has aromas of cassis, tea and the occasional hint of mint which carry on to the palate that is complex and firm with strong tannins and the ability to age this for several more years if you so desire. On the other hand, the 2005 Shiraz is very fruit forward with aromas of plums and other black fruit with a hint of chocolate weaving through it. The palate is tight and firm, shows an excellent balance of fruit and tannin, the right about of chocolate and the ability to age for anywhere from five through to ten years from now.

Now, of course, what would a tasting be without a dessert wine to finish it off? Well, Pfeiffer Rutherglen Wines did not disappoint. Made from 100% Brown Rutherglen Muscat grapes, is done in a late harvest style and has flavours of raisins and floral. It was highly suggested that I try this wine with some of the blue cheese and pecans and that was a great combination but if you are not a fan of blue cheese, why not try it out with some aged cheddar. I have often found that sweeter wines pair wonderfully with four or five year old cheddar.

Now, if you are interested in getting your hands on any of these wines, this is where it gets slightly interesting. Normally, in Ontario at least, most international wines are bought through the LCBO in either the regular stores or the Vintages program. In this case, none of these wines are in the LCBO at all but the gentlemen who were standing behind these booths said that if my readers are interested in getting their hands on some of these wines, they can contact them at the winery directly for importer information. Below you will find contact information for each of the wineries mentioned above.

Plunkett Fowles Wines

Downing Estate Vineyard

Blackjack Wines

Pfeiffer Wines Rutherglen
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